Is Australia racially tolerant?

THE United Nations (UN) International Day for Tolerance marking its 125th anniversary this Tuesday invites Australians to generate public awareness on the dangers of cultural intolerance. 

Tolerance is “respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human,” according to the 1995 UNESCO Declaration of the Principles of Tolerance.

Australia was rated one of the most tolerant countries in the world in 2016 in an international report by Harvard Business School.  

The report surveyed over 132 nations and labelled Australia ‘a tolerant society’ due to education access and personal freedoms. 

Although the country’s tolerance for cultural diversity was standout in 2016, new findings from Amnesty International beg to differ.     

On October six, 2021, the advocacy group released the Human Rights Barometer, an inaugural human rights report. 

The report investigated seven areas of human rights concern, one of these being racism. 

Racism is a form of cultural intolerance and defined as prejudice, discrimination or hatred directed at someone because of their colour, ethnicity, or national origin by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

Whilst the majority of survey respondents supported religious and cultural freedoms (78 per cent) and liberty from discrimination (84 per cent), undertones of intolerance were also present in the report’s findings. 

According to Amnesty Australia, 63 per cent of survey respondents believe ethnic groups and cultures do not want to fit into the ‘Australian’ way of life. 

The Human Rights global movement found it particularly ‘worrying’ that over 50 per cent of respondents held this opinion; as such beliefs indicate a failure to recognise intolerance as a factor behind minority group isolation.  

“In Australia, the major ongoing human rights issues include structural racism and discrimination,” said Amnesty International’s Barometer report. 

“These issues are often complex [and] many are embedded in Australia’s history, and they often affect the marginalised individuals and communities….”

John*, a 49-year-old Greek Australian, has been the brunt of racist slurs as a teenager and adult. 

“In school, I was called a wog and told to go back to where I came from,” he said.

“This has continued into adulthood, where even neighbours have been racist to my wife and I.” 

A survey run by the ABC has framed the commonality of experiences like John’s.

Australia Talks asked 60,000 Aussies about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences on racism in May 2021. 

Three in four Australian’s believe there is ‘a lot’ of racism in Australia, mostly found in ‘minor and subtle’ articulations.  

These subtleties were prominently found in casual prose, with 61 per cent of respondents confirming they had a friend, relative, or colleague who tells racist jokes. 

Alongside this, over 80 per cent of responders had experienced racism in understated expressions.

The International Day for Tolerance aims to promote acceptance, so a mutual understanding and respect for cultural diversity overtakes racist mutters that have become inseparable from the Australian lexicon. 

On November 16, 2020, Director-General of UNESCO Ms Audrey Azoulay promoted tolerance by championing diversity and openness. 

“Teaching tolerance involves teaching diversity, decentering and the discovery of others and their cultures,” Ms Azoulay said. 

“Tolerance is harmony in difference,

UNESCO calls upon everyone to celebrate diversity and the irreducible right to difference.”

AHRC is currently forming a National Anti-Racism framework headed by Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, Mr Chin Tan.

“[The National Anti-Racism] framework would outline a coordinated, shared vision to tackle and promote equality in Australia,” Mr Tan said. 

“It would be a statement of our commitment to tackling racism and our intention to protect and promote racial equality.” 

The Commission calls on the public to have their say on the framework against intolerance, by submitting ideas on principles, outcomes, and strategies.  

To contribute, submit to AHRC before December 15, 2021

*Name changed for privacy 

Tia Haralabakos

Tia Haralabakos is a Media Communications student at Monash University specialising in Journalism and human rights. She is interested in the multi-faceted landscape of digital media, particularly addressing challenges to online reporting like diversity and content moderation. Tia’s journalistic interests include human rights and social affairs.

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Tia Haralabakos

Tia Haralabakos is a Media Communications student at Monash University specialising in Journalism and human rights. She is interested in the multi-faceted landscape of digital media, particularly addressing challenges to online reporting like diversity and content moderation. Tia’s journalistic interests include human rights and social affairs.

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